The Gripe Line: Readers Say Their Hands Are Tied

SAN MATEO (07/24/2000) - We've talked a lot about what Microsoft Corp.'s motivations are for its "medialess" OS policy, but what about the PC manufacturers? Although Microsoft no longer gives them the choice of offering a full backup Windows CD, the way some OEMs implement their recovery CDs suggest they might have their own reasons for embracing Microsoft's policy.

One of the great problems I've had in understanding readers' experiences with these recovery images solutions is that various PC manufacturers implement them differently. (For those of you just joining us, Microsoft has instituted a policy stating that PC vendors that license the OS directly from Microsoft no longer have the option of providing customers a full backup CD, except for the Server Edition of Windows 2000. Microsoft did not announce this publicly, but Microsoft representatives did confirm its existence.)In my burgeoning file of recovery CD gripes, though, I've noticed an interesting thing: An inordinate number of the more severe complaints involve Hewlett-Packard Co.

The common complaints about recovery CDs are from those who got caught by surprise and, not realizing they didn't have a full-fledged CD, had not taken proper precautions (such as keeping their data backed up and saving their Windows CAB files to another disk). The HP gripers, however, understood how to use the recovery CD but still found themselves thwarted from doing what a retail version of the OS would allow them to do.

"In principle, I don't mind CDs that are keyed to my PC," wrote one reader who had just purchased an Omnibook 6000 with Windows 2000. "What does matter is that the CDs HP provides don't give me the full access to all of the components and features of the operating system. For example, there is no makeboot utility for creating the four Win2000 start-up disks. Even worse, the instructions in the Win2000 Help files don't jibe with what they choose to give to the user."

While adding extra networking utilities, the OS directed him to insert the Win2000 CD to find a DLL that hadn't been loaded on his system. "Users (especially unsophisticated ones) should not have to run through such hoops."

Some readers believed that HP's recovery CD implementation was designed to make it hard to use third-party components. "HP's method of 'locking' their utility CD is intended to keep me from using the component parts in another computer," wrote one reader who had just finished setting up a batch of HP Brio computers with Windows 98. "For example, the modems that arrived with my computers were useless in our LAN setting. I was absolutely unable to get the drivers off the utility disk for use on a different computer -- I found the OEM modem manufacturer and got it from their Web site. When did a policy of not transferring computer components come into place?"

A number of readers with different HP systems reported they were unable to replace their systems' original hard drive using the Windows CD they got from HP. Several said they were explicitly told by HP support that the recovery CD would not work with new hard drives and they needed to get a Microsoft retail version of the OS. Similar reports came from HP customers who had exchanged motherboards, only to find they needed a new copy of the OS even if their new motherboard came from HP. Are HP recovery CDs locked to the hard drive or the motherboard shipped with the system?

Because reader complaints range over a variety of HP systems and versions of Windows, it's not easy to find one person at HP who knows the answer. Denis Bournival, program manager for business desktops, who can speak for such systems as Vectras and Brios, said the recovery CDs are tied to the BIOS system ID and therefore should work with other hard drives or motherboards in the same family. Bournival acknowledges that early recovery CDs might not have had all the functionality customers want, but says HP is working on better solutions.

Perhaps these problems will go away as recovery solutions improve. But there's another thing that bothers me. That reader who set up those Brios noticed as he was doing so that the "HP Software Product License Agreement" he had to click OK to for each one contained a term about the recovery CD-ROMs: "The product recovery CD-ROM and/or support utility software may only be used for restoring the hard disk of the HP computer with which the product recovery CD-ROM was originally provided."

Bournival believed that the HP license was just confirming Microsoft's license restricting use of the OS to that computer. But then why does it need to talk about the hard drive? It leaves me wondering. I don't know if HP's engineers are trying to make it hard for customers to change their original equipment, but it sure sounds like their lawyers are ready to do so.

Got a complaint about how a vendor is treating you? Write to InfoWorld's reader advocate, Ed Foster, at gripe@infoworld.com.

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